The best identity theft protection offerings are needed nowadays more than ever. As more and more data moves online we become exposed to greater risks of identity theft and everything that goes along with that.
While you can take all the necessary measures to stay safe online, like using a VPN or having a password manager, it may not be enough. If your data is held by a company – which it almost certainly is – that could be exposed, should it be hacked. Again, this is becoming more common these days too.
This is where the best identity theft protection services can offer things like alerts if your details appear in use online illegally as well as support in recovering from identity theft – and plenty more besides.
Bank account monitoring and regular credit checks are more methods used by these services to keep you safe. Some will even scan the web, searching for any activities related to your identity that could be fraudulent. All that means you can take action before any real damage is done, or to best fix it fast.
There are varying levels of support where you can pay more for even greater protection features. What you go for depends on your needs but it's all laid out clearly below so you can find the perfect level for you and your family.
Best identity theft protection services
1. IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit: Best Identity Theft Protection overall
For an all-encompassing identity theft protection service, the IdentityForce’s UltraSecure + Credit plan is a real winner. Not only will you find that basic information like your name, email address, and Social Security Number are monitored, but you’ll also be able to monitor your child’s information. While the dashboard can take a while to get used to, it’s full of helpful resources and tools to help you better manage not just your identity, but your finances as well.
As far as an identity theft protection service goes, IdentityForce is the best in its alerts. Not only will you get alerts on several platforms, including email and text, but the alerts come almost the instant a threat is detected. For the price you’re paying every month and the number of data points you can monitor, it’s well-worth the money.
The Family packages (opens in new tab) are worth considering too. They're good value for money, and protect you, your partner, and any children you have (there is no limit here, so it's great for large families). The family package includes Childwatch, which is an award-winning extra that you normally pay for as an add-on.
- Read our IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit review (opens in new tab)
2. Identity Guard: Best technology
Identity Guard uses bleeding edge AI technology to scan billions of data points across the internet in search for your information, monitoring key data like your credit and bank account number.
Log into your account and find a pleasantly color-coded and well-organized dashboard that will clearly highlight items that require your attention. You’ll find alerts that are well labeled, so you’ll know exactly when changes to your accounts or information occurred, and on which websites.
Identity Guard makes managing your ID a pleasant experience. This is a wonderfully complete and comprehensive service - as long as you opt for a higher tier plan.
- Read our Identity Guard review (opens in new tab)
3. Norton LifeLock: Great customer support
Norton LifeLock is a powerful identity theft protection system that works across devices and even throws in a VPN as part of the deal. And this all works on five devices at once, for the most basic plan. Though, if you want the best protection you'll need to pay more for the top tier option. That said, they all offer identity and social security number alerts, dark web monitoring, as well as credit monitoring and fund reimbursement for $25,000 or higher.
The 24/7 live member support is a great feature here, available at all pricing levels, this means when a threat is found you have a team ready to spring into action to help mitigate any further potential damage. Go for the higher tiers and these will also fix any credit problems should you have your identity stolen – making that ordeal far less painful an experience.
4. ID Watchdog: Great value protection
ID Watchdog may not have the best technology or the best-looking dashboard, but if you’re looking for a good value plan, it’s the choice for you. It’s less complete than other services on this list, but with such a low cost, you can opt for it and not feel like you’re risking a lot of cash.
The service still offers you threat detection, timely alerts and the option for support to restore your identity should you be the victim of an attack. Lost wallet assistance, dark web monitoring and credit freeze assistance are all part of this affordable service.
Plus, if you’re a medical professional, ID Watchdog should be your top choice, as it can monitor your Provider ID.
5. PrivacyGuard Total Protection: Best for financial planning
PrivacyGuard Total Protection is a great all round identity protection service but it's the bureau checks that really make it stand out. Not only can you see a report of the three major bureaus, monthly as opposed to quarterly or annually like most services, but you can also plan. Included are some powerful financial and credit calculators and simulators that make planning for something big, like buying a car, far easier and clearer.
Dedicated staff help you, should the worst happen, and you're covered for $1 million. There isn't 24/7 tech support but since the apps and online portal are so easy to use even that isn't a major issue.
Best identity theft protection services: FAQs
Identity theft and you
Identity theft is an increasingly bigger problem and the very best way to ensure you stay safe is to use an identity fraud protection service. These ID theft stopping tools not only help you spot and detect scams, but also offer live monitoring of things like searches about your financial situation, changes of address, and accounts being opened in your name, but also offer access to top-level credit reports.
These advanced digital security tools also often come with a suite of anti-phishing and anti-keylogger programs, which help keep malware off your system and, as a result, stop hackers from extracting data from you. Many also offer media identity monitoring suites too, which scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+ for imposter accounts or malicious, prying links.
Importantly, if anything about you or your accounts is detected, then the best identity theft protection services then introduce a certified identity theft management specialist to handle your case until it is resolved.
Of course, not all this advanced technology comes free and not every identity theft protection service is created equal, with free services offering the most basic features and protection, and then fully paid for services offering secret service-levels of digital security and monitoring. Here, in our best identity theft protection guide, we recommend five paid-for services that we consider the absolute best currently in business.
Why trust us?
We’ve been reviewing identity theft protection for ten years. In that time we’ve watched the industry and monitored trends to ensure that our reviews reflect the most current services. As the technology identity thieves use becomes more sophisticated, the tools used by these services are advancing in stride.
Services such as Identity Guard use algorithms and machine learning to search through the dark corners of the internet to see if your information is being sold or used by ID thieves. In addition to monitoring your Social Security Number, address and name, these sites also look at medical records, which are increasingly a source of identity fraud.
How we tested
We spent over 60 hours researching identity theft protection services before narrowing our list down to the best companies. We couldn’t test them in a real-world scenario since that would involve actually getting our reviewer’s identity stolen. Instead, we found comparable plans and contrasted the features each one offered.
One of the most important things to look for is how quickly the service will notify you about potential fraud and the methods used to notify you. The best identity protection services will call or text you. Many services also have mobile apps that notify you about potential fraud. These will let you indicate whether a transaction or loan application was made by you and, if not, begin the process of rectifying the fraud. You’ll also want a service that notifies credit bureaus about fraud, this will save you from contacting the bureaus yourself.
As an added bonus, identity theft protection services often include credit monitoring. Because your credit score can be affected by fraud, you’ll be given access to three-bureau credit reports more frequently than the once a year mandated by federal law. Many services also let you monitor one of your scores monthly.
In the event that your identity is compromised, these services offer recovery services. Look for services that include restoration services, which means you’ll be connected with a specialist who will fill out paperwork and make the necessary calls to help recover your identity.
Are identity protection services safe?
Even when signing up to an identity protection service it's still worth keeping your focus on security. For example your service should ideally offer a two-factor authentication for sign-in. This helps to make sure that your data is protected, even if part of your information were to be acquired by a threat online.
While someone logging into your account won't mean data loss, due to how your data is handled, it can mean they can turn off alerts. This could be part of an attack which is kept from your attention. So that extra layer of two-factor authentication is worth looking out for. Not all services offer it but they're nearly all working to do so.
What to do if your identity is stolen
Your identity may be stolen and many people won't take any steps to protect it until this point. But that isn't to say it's too late and all will be lost – there are steps you can take.
It's worth noting, if you have free credit monitoring, perhaps with your bank, it'll likely be far inferior to the dedicated services mentioned here. In fact some won't notify you of problems until as late as 60 days after it happened.
But what actions can you take should you suspect a problem? You can put a freeze on your credit file right away. This is a smart step if you learn of a security breach. This means creditors can't pull your credit without permission from you directly first.
Should I freeze my credit report?
A credit freeze is free for you to do and is simple, so it can be a good move. To do this you can contact Equifax, Experian (opens in new tab) and Transunion (opens in new tab) directly and that freeze will be put in place. That means no access to your credit reports. Without access to this nobody will be able to take out loans, credit cards and lines of credit using your stolen identity details.
Of course this freeze won't stop a thief from using your current credit cards as these have already been cleared for use. For this you'll need to contact your bank directly and have the cards frozen or cancelled.
If you do put a freeze on your credit, you can lift it just as easily. So it can pay to have that in place and then only lift it when needed, perhaps if you're applying for a loan, apartment or job, for example. The lift usually kicks in an hour after you request it.
Freezing and unfreezing can be done as much as you like and it won't stop existing creditors from accessing your report as needed.
Does where you live make you more vulnerable to identity theft?
Where you live can affect your credit security. WalletHub published a report that looked at the various states to determine those most vulnerable to identity theft.
The top three risk areas were Nevada, Florida and New Jersey. But in terms of the highest dollar losses those areas were Wyoming, Arizona, and California.
The report also looked at the states' policies for protection against identity fraud. These include security freezes for minors and identity theft passports for victims of ID theft. This found that Delaware is the very worst in this way.
Tips to help prevent identity theft
While identity theft protection services can alert you to breaches, they don't actually stop the theft itself. So while these can help you to take actions to stop dollar losses, it's best to be more secure up front so that these issues are less likely to happen. Here are some top tips to help you secure your personal information.
- Don’t give your information to unsolicited requests. According to RoboKiller.com, nearly 4.5 billion robocalls were made in June alone. Phone scams focus on using credible threats, like tech problems or the IRS, to get you to give up personal information. The FTC has a guide on how to deal with phone scams.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card and try not to share your number widely. Some services may require it, especially if they need to check your credit. If it’s optional to include your SSN, don’t share it.
- Empty your mailbox every day and shred sensitive documents before throwing them away. Do the same for anything that might have sensitive or personal information about your children. This may seem paranoid, but dedicated thieves can use this information to commit fraud.
- Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication where possible. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report, 81 percent of hacks start with a stolen or hacked password. Experian has tips (opens in new tab) on how to make a strong password. If a website has an option for two-factor authentication, we recommend activating it. It adds an extra layer of security that helps ensure your accounts aren’t accessed by unauthorized people.
How to stay safe online
There are plenty of ways to stay safer online. These won't protect you against institutional hacks, where your data may be stored, but they can help reduce the risk of identity theft through other means. Here are some useful ways to stay more secure online.
- Strong passwords: Create complex, unique passwords for all your critical accounts. Especially with so many institutions being compromised, using the same password across the web gives hackers the opportunity to access other accounts. Use a password manager to help you create and store unique passwords for all your accounts, and set up multi-factor authentication where possible,
- Don’t forget your phone: Someone may access your personal information on your lost or stolen smartphone. You should use a secure lock screen to prevent someone from accessing your phone. Also, keep your phone’s software updated to protect it from hackers.
- Avoid oversharing: Keep the personal details you share online to a minimum. Hackers can use this information to impersonate you or guess passwords to gain access to your accounts.
- Only purchase from secure sites: When shopping online, make sure you only buy from sites you trust. Also, be sure they have secure checkout processes – look for a padlock by the address bar and an “https” in front of the website address.
- Keep your computer updated: Make sure your software and operating system are up to date. Hackers can exploit holes in out-of-date operating systems and other programs to enter your computer or accounts.
How to recover from identity theft
Even when you take all possible precautions, identity theft can happen. It’s a stressful experience but one you can recover from. Recovering from identity theft isn’t simple, and depending on what was stolen and how the theft occurred, there can be many steps.
The FTC has a checklist for recovering from ID theft. The first step should be calling the fraud departments of the companies where the fraud occurred and having them freeze your accounts. Then you should place fraud alerts on your credit report. To do this, contact one of the credit bureaus – it is required by law for it to contact the other two. Fraud alerts are free and make it harder for accounts to be opened in your name. Each bureau will send you a letter confirming a fraud alert has been placed on your file.
If you’ve had your wallet stolen or it's gone missing, cancel your cards and licenses and report passports and Social Security cards to the proper agencies. You have to make arrangements with each agency to replace those documents. Further, you need to change your logins, passwords, and PINs.
You should also file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC. It will collect all the details of your theft and send complaints to the appropriate agencies or businesses. After doing this, you need to contact local law enforcement. Bring the affidavit and remember to get a copy of the police report.
One advantage of signing up for identity theft protection is the service provides you with recovery assistance. You work with a case manager who helps you with some of the paperwork as well as walks you through the steps for closing or changing accounts. Some services may allow you to give them the authority to act on your behalf when dealing with creditors.
How to protect your child from identity theft
Identity theft of children is becoming more prevalent. According to Experian (opens in new tab), 1.3 million children – most of them under age 6 – have their identities stolen each year. Children are appealing targets because they have blank credit files and the fraud often goes undetected until they turn 18. And though the impact is unseen for a long time, it can lead to results like being denied for student loans.
There are several signs that your child may have been affected by ID theft. If you start getting calls or bills from collections agencies in your child’s name, that’s a sure sign that someone has been using their information. You may get turned down for government benefits because those benefits are being paid to another account in your child’s name.
To protect your child from ID theft, keep their Social Security number and other personal information locked away. Tell your children to avoid sharing personal information online. The FTC recommends checking your child’s credit report at 16; this will give you time to address any fraud before they apply for loans or credit cards after they turn 18.
If you find that someone has opened an account in your child’s name, you should contact the companies where the fraud occurred. You may also need to contact the credit bureaus and have them remove any fraudulent accounts. You’ll likely have to provide evidence of your child’s birth certificate. You can put a freeze (opens in new tab) on your child’s credit, which will prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your child’s name, though it won’t prevent existing accounts from being used.
What is tax refund ID theft?
One of the many ways ID thieves can use your information is by filing false tax returns in your name to claim refunds. In some cases, they may also use your Social Security number to get a job.
This is one of the most common types of fraud the IRS sees. An Experian study (opens in new tab) shows that tax fraud is the second most common type of ID fraud after credit card fraud, though the total amount of tax ID fraud is decreasing.
Most often, when you’re a victim of this type of fraud, you find out when you file your return. The IRS will send you a notice that it’s already received your return. If your SSN was used by someone to get a job, that employer will report that income to the IRS. When you send in your return, you’ll hear from the IRS that you didn’t report all your wages.
If you think someone fraudulently used your SSN to file a return, contact the IRS. It will assist you in fixing the problems. You also need to file a Form 14039, an Identity Theft Affidavit, which you attach to your return. In some cases, the IRS will assign you a unique PIN to use when filing your return.
If you do get called by someone claiming to represent the IRS, you should hang up and contact the IRS directly to confirm whether you owe any taxes. If you don’t owe any taxes, you should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can also file a complaint with the FTC Complaint Assistant.
How long do the effects of identity theft last?
Depending on how your identity was compromised and how quickly you resolved your issues, the effects of identity theft can linger long after. The Economist (opens in new tab) estimates that it can take up to six months and hundreds of hours to resolve identity fraud. A lot depends on how quickly you find that your information was compromised. Identity theft protection services help here, notifying you of suspicious activity and helping you to resolve any fraud that may have occurred.
Depending on what information was stolen, the FTC (opens in new tab) makes a different recommendation on how to manage the immediate aftereffects. The immediate effects can include damage to your credit score and report, which can hinder you in many ways. Besides being unable to get approved for loans, having bad credit can also affect how much you pay for auto insurance and can even result in you not being considered for jobs.
In addition to financial effects, identity theft can also impact your life in other ways. ID theft is one of the few crimes that require victims to do significant legwork to resolve the issues. And even when victims work with law enforcement and government agencies, they report dissatisfaction with how their issues are resolved, according to an annual survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center (opens in new tab).
One of the biggest effects that are underreported is the emotional consequences of dealing with ID theft. Identity theft can affect sleep patterns, job performance, and interpersonal relationships. It can also result in victims tapping into their own savings to deal with the problem.
What are the most common types of ID theft?
Identity theft isn’t a single, simple thing – there are multiple ways thieves can access your information and cause trouble. Here are some of the most common types of identity theft to watch out for:
- Account takeovers: This is one of the fastest-growing types of identity theft, accounting for 1.4 million instances. It involves someone gaining access to one of your accounts and changing the login and security setting. This type of theft has resulted in over $2 billion in losses.
- Credit card fraud: Another of the most common types of ID theft involves thieves using your existing credit card or creating another in your name. You can put a freeze on your credit to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name.
- Medical fraud: Medical fraud involves someone using your information to get medical treatment. This can result in doctors having inaccurate records, fraudulent medical bills or creditors tracking you down for bills you never received.
- Tax identity fraud: This is when someone submits tax returns in your name. You’ll discover the fraud when you file your return and the IRS notifies you that it has already received one from you.
- Child ID theft: Children are becoming a more common target for identity thieves because of their unblemished credit. This can impact your child in the future when they become old enough to apply for credit themselves. Keep an eye out for any bills that come in their name.
What is medical ID theft?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health data breaches are on the rise. In 2017 (opens in new tab), there were more than 250 health data breaches, and there were more than 300 in 2018 (opens in new tab). This means millions of records were potentially exposed along with the vital information they contain, including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and addresses.
Medical information is appealing to thieves because it lets them commit all types of fraud – they can fill prescriptions, file claims in your name, open credit cards or get loans in your name. It’s also possible for thieves to blackmail patients with sensitive medical histories.
Keep your eye on any medical information you get in the mail. Read the explanation of benefits on any claim you receive and check to see if the information matches the date you were seen and the treatment you received. Signs you may be a victim of medical fraud include bills for services you didn’t receive, debt collector calls for medical debt you don’t owe, credit report entries for debt you don’t owe, notices from your insurance that you’ve reached your benefit limit or denials of insurance based on conditions you don’t have.
If you are a victim of medical ID fraud, you can request a copy of your medical records, which you’re entitled to by federal law. Review them for inaccurate information. You may need to request records from before the theft. You may also need to ask insurers and medical providers for “accounting of disclosures,” which is their record of who they’ve sent copies of your records to. Ask for corrections to your medical records, but make sure you keep copies of any documents you may have received due to the fraud.
Identity theft protection tips for the visually impaired
Everyone is at risk of having their identity stolen, but some groups are more likely to be victims. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (opens in new tab) (ITRC), people with impaired vision or vision loss are easier targets for criminals. Fortunately, the ITRC teamed up with Braille Institute to develop tips for helping people with vision issues protect themselves from being targeted. In the article, Empish J.
Thomas shares her experience with identity theft and the obstacles she encountered. Thomas recommends that the visually impaired have a core group of trustworthy people who can help with the following tips (which actually apply to everyone):
- Don’t take anything at surface value. Be suspicious of the source, whether it’s a phone call, a letter or an email. Never give out personal data to anyone requesting it unless you have thoroughly vetted the source.
- Shred all documents containing personal information. Shred all documents before you throw them away, including junk mail, medical documents, bills, and bank statements. People with impaired vision may need to rely on a friend to routinely help them go through all of the items that need to be shredded.
- Use security software and identity theft monitoring services. Antivirus software isn’t enough to protect you, as most identity theft occurs without viruses. You need to rely on more robust security measures to ensure you are protected from a broader range of threats.
- Monitor your credit. If your identity has been stolen, your credit report will likely provide the first clues. The sooner you take action against identity theft, the greater the chances are that you will fully recover.
- Get help immediately. Likewise, the sooner you report suspicious activity, the better your chances are of recovering from identity theft. The TRC and the Federal Trade Commission offer assistance to victims of identity theft.